Federalist #4 - John Jay - Federalist Fidays

Federalist #4 - John Jay - Federalist Fidays

Federalist Fridays, my favorite day of the week!

In today’s article, we review Federalist #4 by John Jay who is continuing his discussion on the fashion in which the Constitution will protect the United States from Foreign Powers.

If this is you first time reading, you may want to start from the beginning or at least catch up on last weeks Paper.

Federalist #4

John Jay

November 7, 1787

The Same Subject Continued

As the title implies, John Jay continues the same subject in Federalist Paper #4 as he did in #3: why a Federal Government under the Constitution would protect the United States from foreign invasion.

Jay begins by reminding the reader that his previous Paper discussed how the Constitution would keep the United States out of JUST wars (his emphasis) while the goal of #4 is to discuss how the new Government could prevent wars started for PRETENDED reasons.

As Jay states:

“…absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans.”

In other words, sometimes one nation will go to war with another for no good reason. The Constitution, in Jay’s opinion, will intimidate war-hungry nations from choosing the United States as their target.

It’s basically the ‘they won’t pick on someone their own size’ argument.

If the States remain separate, foreign powers will see that and take advantage. If the States come together, with one unified, organized army, other countries will think twice about starting a fight.



Jay then points out that the United States was naturally in an economic position which could give other powers a reason to chose it as a target. Namely, trade.

First of all, the United States would need to begin sending ships to trade with India and China in order to continue receiving goods from those nations. Since America had been receiving those goods from European countries, she would now be taking profits away from them.

Additionally, the United States was geographically located in a position to dominate trade throughout the Americas. This could very well lead to resentment.

Under the Constitution, Jay believed, one powerful Navy could defend American vessels worldwide. Having such a Navy would reinforce the theory of intimidation he presented earlier.


A Questionable Argument

Later in Paper #4, Jay makes a very strange argument when he says:

“What would the militia of Britain be if the English militia obeyed the government of England, if the Scotch militia obeyed the government of Scotland, and if the Welsh militia obeyed the government of Wales? Suppose an invasion; would those three governments (if they agreed at all) be able, with all their respective forces, to operate against the enemy so effectually as the single government of Great Britain would?”

Jay goes on to ask, if Britain were attacked, who would lead their army? Who would pay the soldiers? How could they win a war?

Additionally, he ponders, if the United States were thirteen separate nations (as many viewed themselves at the time), wouldn’t they find the same troubles?

While they may seem logical at first glance, these questions are a rather curious means of trying to convince Anti-Federalists to support the Constitution.

Anti-Federalist could respond easily: ‘How could thirteen separate States fight off one of the most powerful nations in the world? We just did!’


The World is Watching

Jay concludes Paper #4 with perhaps the strongest argument we’ve seen so far in the Federalists, stating, “But whatever may be our situation, whether firmly united under one national government, or split into a number of confederacies, certain it is, that foreign nations will know and view it exactly as it is.”

This is an extremely perceptive line. The powers of Europe (and the world) were watching. They would know what decisions the United States were making and act accordingly.

If the United States accepted the Constitution, other nations would see that and understand who they were dealing with.

If the Constitution was vetoed, those nations would still know who they were dealing with. In this case, according to Jay, foreign nations would be less intimidated and therefore readier to start a war. Sure, some of the States would be fine but others may be more vulnerable and…who knows what would happen?


So, let’s do an exercise. If the Constitution had not been ratified, which State do you think would have been most at risk to be invaded by another nation? Let us know in the comments.

If you are new to the site and want to keep up with Federalist Fridays, make sure you subscribe to our email list. You’ll get a new Founder every day (except Fridays, we’ll be doing Federalist Papers for quite a while).

Also, if you don’t have a copy of the Federalist Papers in your house (and every American home should) make sure you pick up a copy through our affiliate link below. This is the copy I usually reference in my house as it is small and easily navigable.

The Federalist Papers (Signet Classics)
By Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay
Philip Livingston Attends The Albany Congress

Philip Livingston Attends The Albany Congress

The Edwards Brothers Fight Tyranny Together

The Edwards Brothers Fight Tyranny Together